Pressure builds on Bristol after stunning defeat
WHEN Moseley, somewhat surprisingly, beat Bristol at Billesley Common last autumn, they inflicted a third Championship defeat of the season on Liam Middleton's team.
The Midlanders were at it again at the Memorial Stadium on Friday, handing Bristol a third league loss of the new campaign – and something of a surprise it was, too.
But the main difference between last year's third league defeat and this season's was that Moseley's victory in November 2011 came in Bristol's tenth match of the campaign. Friday's match was only Bristol's fifth of the new season.
Also, in 2011-12, those three defeats all came away from the Memorial Stadium – at Leeds, Rotherham and then Moseley – while Bristol went on to lose only another two games, both away from home, in the remainder of the regular season.
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Already this term, Middleton's side have been beaten twice in three games at the Memorial Stadium.
The walls of the fortress have been blown down by the hotly-tipped Newcastle and the considerably less hotly-tipped Moseley.
But Bristol can have no real complaints about Friday's outcome beyond their own inaccuracy, decision-making and defence.
Head coach Middleton is a man who rarely deals in hyperbole, so for him to talk about his team facing "an uphill battle" spoke volumes.
Bristol, already, are under pressure.
After the previous weekend's first-half capitulation at Headingley, Bristol's most recent collapse came in the final quarter of the game.
They led Moseley 21-5 with 14 minutes plus stoppage-time to play – a lead that should have been unassailable given their hosts have finished tenth, eleventh and ninth in the past three seasons, and went into Friday with only one win – against whipping boys Jersey – in their opening four Championship matches.
This weekend, Bristol head to Rotherham, a place where they lost 44-6 last season – but their lock Glen Townson knows that now is not the time to panic.
"I don't think we can start to panic so early on in the season," said Townson. "We've got to look within, and it's going to be a difficult time for us, because the pressure is going to be applied on us.
"Everyone is going to be looking in from the outside and questioning us. But it's at times like this that you find out how strong a character we've got within the squad – and I'm confident we can bounce back.
"We've got to work on a few key areas of our game and suddenly we'll start performing and picking up the results. From within the camp, I know there's no complacency here.
"The league has got more competitive and we've got to rise to that. We've got off to a slow start and we've only got ourselves to blame – but I know we can put it right."
Bristol and Moseley generally operate with far different expectations – one battling to go up, one battling to stay up.
On Friday's evidence, neither side is likely to be leaving the Championship at the end of the current season.
In their defence, Bristol's squad has been decimated through injury and unavailability.
But the fact they led Moseley by 16 points with less than a quarter of the match to play on Friday hints at a wider issue than merely numbers.
Bristol shaded a dismal first half 6-5, with two Tristan Roberts penalties giving them the edge over Glynn Hughes' well-worked try for the visitors, who dummied his way to the line at the end of a move that began with Bristol conceding a needless penalty.
But the warning signs were there in the first half as Moseley missed 11 points in kicks, Oli Thomas failing with a conversion and a penalty, and Hughes missing two long-range penalties.
Although Bristol offered glimmers of encouragement before the break, the most interesting occurrences were the three yellow cards – one each for Moseley's Charlie Hayter (high tackle) and Ben Pienaar, who was sin-binned along with Bristol's Mariano Sambucetti following some fisticuffs.
After the break, Bristol went 11-5 up through the impressive David McIlwaine, who took Rhys Lawrence's pass to score after good work from Ruki Tipuna and Sambucetti, before Roberts landed a penalty to make it 14-5.
The advantage soon became 21-5 when McIlwaine's break laid the foundations for the forwards to apply the pressure from close-range that saw Mitch Eadie power over, with Roberts nailing the conversion.
But, with Bristol making poor decisions, not only in deciding to send a couple of penalties to touch, but also with the ball in hand, Moseley chipped away at their lead.
Hughes evaded the home defence to score his second try of the evening, which he then converted, before the visitors scored a stunning length-of-the-field try, with Hughes eventually sending Hayter in from 20 metres, to set up a frantic finale.
Moseley lost replacement Nigel Burrows to the sin-bin – but still ended up camped on the Bristol line.
And, after several scrums, Bristol were penalised for going over the top and Hughes landed the routine penalty that won Moseley the game.